Reflecting on my journey…

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been back in Canada for over two weeks. Time has gone by quickly and surprisingly the adjustment back to life in Toronto hasn’t been as strange as I thought it would be. I’ve pretty much jumped right back into my everyday routine here!  There is definitely a lot to share about on my trip, but I think it is more than I can write in a single posting. I’ve had a chance to take some time to reflect on my journey and I am inspired to write some of my reflections here because of the support and encouragement you all have provided me.

Firstly, a heartfelt thanks goes out to everyone at St. John’s Rehab who selflessly gave to the Nkanchina School Fund and the Snake Bite Fund. With the assistance of all of your generous donations, we were able to raise approximately $6000 CDN for each fund to help and serve the people of Ghana. I am delighted to tell you that these donations were received with great gratitude and appreciation. The money will help save many lives and provide education for many children in the Kpandai district of Northern Ghana!

Looking back, I believe my trip to Africa was both a professional endeavour and a personal journey. One of our main purposes for this trip was to learn more about healthcare in Ghana, as well as to provide physiotherapy services and to teach seminars for Ghanaian physiotherapists. I met many incredibly dedicated and talented therapists, and we found that there is significant opportunity to provide education and training for them. Access to the most current literature and best practice guidelines is scarce in Ghana, so most therapists are willing to travel several hours to attend seminars to improve their knowledge and their clinical skills. I was fortunate to have made important connections with some of the national leaders in physiotherapy, and it is exciting to have a chance to participate in the advancement of the profession in the country. They have already invited me back to teach next year!

On a personal level, as I reflect on my journey, I have no doubt that this trip has changed me in a significant way. In my time there, I encountered in the Ghanaian people both strength and beauty, as well as sorrow and suffering. I experienced firsthand the tragic consequences of poverty, but I was also humbled by the resiliency of the African people.  Now, after travelling over 2000 km through large cities and rural villages in Ghana, I feel a sense of completion, that I have fulfilled the purposes for which God has led me to this country.  I cannot say that the Ghanaian people are the only ones who have benefitted from my time there, for I have gained new friendships and relationships with individuals who have inspired me greatly. I have come back with a genuine appreciation for what I have in my life and renewed determination to use what I have been blessed with to stand for social justice and advocate for change to somehow make a difference in our world.

Here are some more photos from my experience:

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Peace,
Gary

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Friday, July 29: Accra

After crossing the border early yesterday morning from Lome into Aflao (a city on the Ghanaian side of the border), we quickly hired a car and sped straight for Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. We are lucky that most Ghanaian roads do not seem have speed limits!  It was quite a ride and we still got to the hospital about a 1/2 hour late, but everything worked out fine since everybody appeared to be running on “Ghanaian Time” anyway.  Once we arrived, we quickly composed ourselves and began to teach the workshop.  This seminar was a lot larger than the first one I taught at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital.  There were just over 40 therapists representing 10 different hospitals and clinics in Southern Ghana. Some even travelled from as far as 3 or 4 hours away to attend the workshop! The reality is that there are not many opportunities to pursue further education in physiotherapy once you’ve graduated from the university program. Some therapists, who can afford it, will travel to other countries to do additional courses, but most will not have that privilege. They were very interested in what we had to teach them and very appreciative of the theraband that St. John’s Rehab provided for them.

With this workshop, I have finally completed my last day of healthcare-related work in Ghana. I told the executives of GAP that I hoped to return in one year’s time, and they were delighted and promised that I would teach workshops for “a few days” the next time I returned! I think there is a huge opportunity for Western-trained therapists to teach in Ghana. It is interesting to see how the profession is trying to expand and develop itself in Ghana, and it is exciting to imagine that maybe we can have a part in this as well.

There is a lot to think about, but right now I’m glad that we’ve finally finished our journey through Ghana. I knew coming in that these 6 weeks would be gruelling with all the travel, but I really started to miss home in the last 2 weeks here and I will be glad to not have to live out of a suitcase anymore. I fly back on Saturday evening and I’m really looking forward to coming back to St. John’s Rehabto see everyone again.  See you soon and I hope I can handle the heat in Toronto! =)

Here are some more photos from my journey!

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Thursday, July 21: Accra

Yesterday we left Kpandai and made the 11 hour journey back to Accra.  The coach bus we were on for most of the trip was overcrowded, and I found myself sitting on the floor of the coach for part of the trip. Despite this, I didn’t sleep one wink throughout the entire journey because the mountains of the Volta region of Ghana are large and the scenery is beautiful.

Tonight we will send my wife Anna off to the airport as she heads back to Canada and tomorrow we will spend the entire day travelling to the border and crossing into Togo.  I have been invited to consult in the physiotherapy department of a hospital in the city of Tsiko.

Since we are back in Accra and I once again have internet access, I just wanted to say that I’m THRILLED that people are following my journey in Ghana closely and have posted their thoughts and encouragements. I read them for the first time last night and it’s really touched my heart to know that you all are interested in the things that I am pursuing with my life.  I can’t wait to share more things with you all when I return to St. John’s Rehab.  I just wanted to take this chance while I’m still online to upload some photos of the things I’ve been describing over the last month on the blog, I hope you enjoy the pics!

Ps. Hope you all are handling the heat ok back in Toronto!  It’s been in the low 20’s here in Ghana for a while now.  Who knew it would be cooler here than back home? Hang in there!

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Tuesday, July 19: Kpandai

Nkanchina School 2008
Nkanchina School 2008

Yesterday we visited the Nkanchina School and we were delighted to hear that they’ve been able to complete a building since the last time we visited in 2008. A group from Holland helped finance the building of the school structure, and just by pure coincidence they are here in Kpandai right now! So we decided to all visit together to evaluate the school’s progress in the last couple of years.

Nkanchina School 2011

Nkanchina School 2011

You can see from the pictures on the right most of the school’s 300+ students now learn in a more permanent environment, though the youngest still have class under large mango trees.

After meeting with the teachers, we decided that the money we’ve raised through donations will go towards teacher training and desks and chairs for the children. We were told that only 2 of the 8 teachers at the school are actually paid a salary, while the rest teach on a volunteer basis. Putting these teachers through formal teacher training will mean that the government will pay them a salary for their work at the school.

Primary students have class under large mango trees.

Primary students have class under large mango trees.

Today was also our last day at the Kpandai Health Centre.  In total we saw approximately 50 patients, and unlike our previous time here we were able to have patients revisit multiple times to ensure that they were properly educated on their exercise routines. Our treatment focused almost solely on education and exercise prescription because we felt that this would be the best way to empower people to self-manage their conditions in the long term. We’ve really enjoyed our time here, and the impact that we’ve been able to make. We were happy to know that should the Kpandai Health Centre be successful in its application to be upgraded to an official hospital, Dr. Timothy would welcome us back to start and develop a physiotherapy department here! Tomorrow we will leave Kpandai with a little bit of sadness, but a lot of things to contemplate for the future.

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Saturday, July 16: Kpandai

Let me take this chance to tell you a little bit more about Ghanaian culture. Greetings are important in Ghanaian culture. They will find it strange that we don’t regularly greet people that we don’t know walking along the street or the bus. There is a feel of community around here, and many people each day will drop by the house just to say “hi” and many will call on the phone with no other intention than to “greet you”. A common greeting in Ghana is “you’re welcome”, especially if you are a visitor or foreigner. This is not a response to when someone says “thank you”, but it is literally meant to convey that “you are welcome here”. I think it says a lot about the culture that they choose to greet one another this way.

On the street you may choose to wave to someone with your right hand or with both hands, but never with your left hand which is a sign of rudeness. Or shaking hands, you may show respect by supporting your right elbow with your left hand or tapping your heart with your right hand after the handshake. A casual handshake between friends will include snapping your middle finger with the middle finger of your friend.  It’s quite an interesting way to shake hands, one I have yet to master but will definitely show you all when I return.

Peace,
Gary

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Thursday, July 14: Kpandai

So far this week, approximately 40 patients have come through the clinic, and to be honest, we have really been enjoying the pace of our work here. It has given us much more one-on-one time with our patients, to properly educate them and to make sure they understand the exercises that we have prescribed for them. This afternoon, half of the local high soccer team came into the clinic to get treatment for their sports related injuries before their big competition in Tamale next month. We saw ankle sprains and knee ligament injuries, and it was fun to take a visit back to my sports medicine roots. It was also refreshing to treat young, healthy patients with acute conditions that we actually had the ability to manage and the resources to treat them in the short time we are here.

This is not always the case. Yesterday morning, we saw two patients, both suffering from hip fractures after falling off of their motorbikes about nine months ago. One man was actually fortunate enough to be treated by a team of travelling British orthopaedic surgeons and physiotherapists. However, he was not told what surgical procedure was performed, and was not given a proper exercise routine when he was discharged. The other man decided to rely on traditional African herbs, a common practice here in Ghana before turning to medical treatment. It was ultimately useless, and unfortunately after nine months, both still have difficulty weight-bearing on their affected legs, and both ended up with significant leg length abnormalities. There are no orthopaedic doctors here in the north, or even x-ray machines. We simply prayed for them before sending them off with exercise routines, hoping that the exercises will be able to be sufficient to reduce their pain. This is all part of living in this part of the world.

Peace,
Gary

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Tuesday, July 12: Kpandai

Yesterday we woke up to pouring rain and the power was off again. The health clinic is usually crammed with almost 100 people waiting by 7am, but whenever it rains, the dirt roads becomes muddy and it is difficult for the villagers to travel to see Dr. Timothy. The day after a significant rainfall is also less busy because many of the villagers will head to the farms to take advantage of the rain-soaked fields to go farming. So therefore, these two days, we got off to a little bit of a slow start at the clinic.

So far we have seen a variety of degenerative disorders, mostly farmers who have worn out their knees and backs from the grueling farming work. We have also seen three stroke cases, but unfortunately, two of them are already seven years post-CVA, and one of them is one year post-CVA. It is difficult to accomplish much with these patients, especially in the short time we have here. In total, we have seen approximately 20 patients, but it has been nothing close to the numbers we saw the last time we were here.  It has been a little discouraging, but hopefully tomorrow will be a busier day since it didn’t rain today.

Peace,
Gary

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